Bungamati & Shanku (Nepal)
The story of Bungamati & Shanku
The first thing that springs to mind when one sees devastation like this is how hopeless the task of rebuilding appears to be. It’s not just the homes and the temples, it’s the lives, particularly in light of the knowledge that there is no one to help, no insurance and a mere token of government assistance. It’s left to those around you, your neighbours, your relatives, your village folk. In other words, your community.
Five months on from the earthquake the town of Bungamati, a medieval town popular with tourists who come to take in the history, far removed from Western expectations, appears to be a picture of both order and chaos. Order because bricks are stacked neatly in almost every street, adjacent to the building that was made from those bricks. They are also piled neatly in the town’s main square, as if they are waiting for the meeting to be finished that determines where they will go. But there is also chaos, a type of organised chaos, because within that order is still, on the surface anyway, no real plan to rebuild. There are tarpaulins everywhere, people still live in tents, activity seems strangely resigned.
We watched workers shovel debris from the exposed third floor of a building that was obviously considered unsafe. It appeared as though it had been decided that the building could stand but that the top floor should first be gutted and rendered before the tenants could return. Dust filled the air as bricks and mortar fell to the ground below. Others in the main square went about other business, sweeping, carrying, watching. Five months on, whilst progress has been made, there appears to no sign of permanence, that things have returned to anything like normal.
Bungamati contains lane ways that reek of history, cobblestones that you could easily spend the whole day walking on, wandering around saying hello, “Namaste” to the locals and watching them smile back at you, glad to have you visit their village.
A young boy of about eight navigates a craft on the algae covered town pond, formally, and probably still, a vital source of water, playing a game that he has devised himself, perhaps racing against some imagined opponent and winning the race to the other side. Or perhaps his craft, made up of barrels, a steel frame that acts as his shell, and a bamboo pole that is clearly too big for him, is just a way to escape the fact that he can’t go to school for the time being because there are no teachers, there is no school.
Bungamati will be worth a visit when I return. I would like to see it’s people in full flourish.
Shanku (pronounced Sar-ku), about an hours wild ride out of the capital on a motorcycle, through potholes a dedicated dirt tracker could not have designed, smog and dust that made breathing an adventure, navigating the course with other delivery trucks, buses, bikes and cars, is another story altogether.
It suffered even greater damage than Bungamati, houses crumbled, which might be seen, when examined closely, to be more a blessing had the buildings merely creaked and cracked. At least the decision to rebuild was made easier. I saw women, and it must be said that it is the women who keep the dream alive, who toil without complaint, shifting debris, five months on, still lifting and clearing the way for a return.
Before setting off to Shanku I asked Pratik, my ever present guide, to stop into a shopping centre in Kathmandu so that we could get some supplies for our journey. I was heading into the unknown, I wanted backup, something to eat that I recognised, so we purchased a few energy bars, among other things, just in case we were stuck for somewhere to have lunch. We came to the end of a street where we noticed a group of women carrying bricks from a collapsed building (I was to discover later that it was a temple) from a courtyard. One of the ladies was shovelling bricks into a large basket carried by another lady. It was hot. We watched, I took pictures while Pratik chatted to a local who was looking on. Guilt started to scratch against my skin, these women were engaging in the sort of labour that should have been undertaken by men. But where were the men?
It was getting close to lunch and despite my having no idea as to where we were going to get lunch or when and if it might be, I foraged in my backpack for the energy bars purchased that morning. I told Pratik that I was giving away our snack, that I could not watch these women work and not give them something. I asked him to let them know. One of the women held out her hand and I offered them to her. As she took them she laughed, giggled with her friends and sat down. Tea break at the crumbled temple. Other women appeared and they sat, divvied up the chocolate like schoolgirls at a picnic.
Pratik informed me that Nepalis laugh a lot, perhaps they were laughing at me. I didn’t care that my gesture, meagre though it was, provided some sort of relief to a group of people who could do with others doing something more substantial for them.